Let me confess that I liked The Civil Wars but didn’t grow to love them. I had also liked them for some months before I caught on that Joy Williams was one of them. I had met Joy at a Songwriters Retreat in Nashville and was delighted she was back performing again, never mind winning a Grammy!
So let me confess again. I was worried that I might not like Joy’s new solo album, Venus. I LOVE it!
Where The Civil Wars was my kind of acoustic sound, Venus is full of beats and grooves and veers towards pop but finds its cred in Joy’s Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Portishead influences. Whatever you make of the sounds, Venus is one ambitious piece of work shifting rhythms and beats and moods throughout. It doesn’t break completely with The Civil Wars, being grounded in honed songwriting, but it heads into way more imaginative territory.
The first single did warn us. Goodness me! Woman (Oh Mama) is where the music stretches and the rhythms go wild, sensuous, spiritual with all the sage like wisdom of a prophetess: “We will show you when life begins/(Oh mama, oh mama oh mama)/(Oh mama, oh mama oh mama, oh-oh)/I am the Universe wrapped in skin”. Check the video.
Of Woman (Oh Mama) Williams has said, “So much of this music video (and the upcoming album) is about acceptance, transcendence, forgiveness and growing stronger for having stared into the darkest places within myself.” That is the review. What Joy Williams has done is to write an album about the strength of womankind in the story of this one particular woman.
This woman has been through some personal turmoil in recent years. Vocationally of course The Civil Wars imploded as they were on the cusp of conquering the world. Why? No one knows and What A Good Woman Does suggests the mystery will remain. The album is full of references that we can quickly connect to that professional crisis.
Add to that life trauma the loss of Joy’s father. Grief and heartache are touched on throughout. As she loses a father, she is giving birth to her first son. That’s an emotional cocktail. And in all of this she and her manager husband are is fighting to keep their marriage.
Venus has all of that. Ms Williams is prepared to look into the heart of the darkness: “I’m gonna stand here in the ache/Until the levee, until the levee on my heart breaks (Until The Levee).” She finds more than songs in the dark. There is a steel of courage and a certain hope: “I'd love to write a happy song/One day I will (One Day I Will).” Though there is blood all over all of these tracks, there is redemption… just: “Every rose has its thorn; every thorn has its crown (The Dying Kind).
I could blog about every song. As we draw to the end we find love that is spiritual, romantic and parental.You Loved Meis simple and profound: “And I tried and I failed/And you loved me…”
Til Forever is the love song of the year: “Lover, find me underneath the covers/We will stay here until we discover/All that we have to give to each other/Til forever.”
We conclude with Welcome Home to round off an album that started with “I got miles and miles to go before I sleep” with “We dance and sometimes only fall/We sing even when there are no words/And I hope love lifts you up again and again/And if you ever lose your way, let me be the first to say/Welcome home.”
Sweet mercy! Actually, it is a record of sweet mercy, thick set tenderness and holdable hope. Musically mesmerising and emotionally stunning!